Rosh Hoshanah Weekend: 2009 Season Opener

Gimme dat Ole Time Religion

SATURDAY, SEPT. 18, 2009

At times, surf fishing approaches a religious experience for me. No more so than on Rosh Hoshanah. Not because I have “seen the light”. Rather, because I have probably caught more fish in the surf on the Rosh Hoshanah holiday than any other day of the year.

Given, Rosh Hoshanah is the day I fish most consistently since it always falls during the prime shank of the autumn surfcasting season. Then again, I have to believe there is something else going on. You be the judge.

Sunrise on Napeague beach on Rosh Hoshana morning brought the first surfcasting blitz of 2009

Sunrise on Napeague beach on Rosh Hoshana morning brought the first surfcasting blitz of 2009

This year, Rosh Hoshanah was early—September 18-19–and my season—which typically kicks off on Labor Day weekend—was late. But the two converged very nicely on a sunny and warm weekend tailor-made for bathing suit and barefoot sandy beach surfcasting. And like years past, it produced a bumper crop of bluefish and striped bass for the table. I call that old time religion.

For weeks, There was virtually no action in the surf. While I was up Island, keeping the world safe for real estate short sales, My brother Frank, his son Christopher and brother-in-law Keith–in from California for my son Daniel’s wedding the weekend before (thus the late season start)–were keeping things honest from Amagansett to Montauk. All week they searched the beaches, along with their guest Bob Crais, an escaped novelist from the Southland (http://www.robertcrais.com/). Bob had visited a few years earlier and caught beaucoup bluefish on the Montauk beaches in a driving November nor’easter. This time he had perfect Indian Summer weather but the skunk was upon him. Frank showed him how to live like a bayman with

First cast, first fish of 2009. A cocktail bluefish from the Rosh Hoshana Blitz

First cast, first fish of 2009. A cocktail bluefish from the Rosh Hoshana Blitz

successful clamming and blue claw crabbing expeditions. Bob even turned a single whelk taken from the Northwest Harbor clamming grounds into the sweetest, most tender Scungilli salad I ever tasted. But alas, no Rosh Hoshanah magic with finned species for Bob on this trip.

By the time I arrived for a Friday session, there was a stiff WNW wind on the beach and the surf was dirtied up and choppy. We hunted all the usual locations, but the only productive use of my time was getting my beach permits up to date. Natalie caught the bullet train from NYC and joined us for a dinner of store bought (but locally caught) Mako shark steaks prepared Cajun style on Frank’s grill.

With sundown, the Rosh Hoshanah holiday was officially upon us and it was as if the fish knew. Because on Saturday morning, everything changed.

The minute we drove on the beach at Napeague Lane at sunrise, we could see clouds of birds to the east. If I had a shofar, I would have blown it.  Bob Crais and I sped toward the action. Just west of White Sands motel, we found fish splashing within casting range. On my first heave, I nailed a cocktail bluefish on a white pencil popper. Bob hooked

Keith Criado nails a keeper bass at White Sands in Rosh Hoshana Blitz '09

Keith Criado nails a keeper bass at White Sands in Rosh Hoshana Blitz '09

up shortly thereafter but dropped his fish at the waterline. Frank and Keith were in the water by now and Keith had a bent pole but trouble cranking his reel. It turned out his main problem was a 28-inch striper that inhaled his silver Kastmaster. Keith brought in the first keeper of the season on the last day of his fishing trip. Another High Holy Days miracle. He added a bluefish for punctuation and our cooler was filled for the lunchtime feast to come.

Though the birds kept circling and diving on bait for the rest of the morning The fish moved off to deeper water. Our action lasted less than an hour beginning at 7am on the last of the incoming tide.  With the lull, we repaired to Frank’s house and a fish cleaning party where we discovered the bass was feeding on tiny baby crabs and clams while the bluefish was gorging on tiny weakfish.

Lunch was grilled fresh striped bass, Long Island BLT’s (bluefish, lettuce and tomato sandwiches), served on bagels with a grand salad by my niece Gina.

After Bob and his wife Pat left to catch their plane, we returned to the beach but never raised another fish. For dinner, we cobbled together a ragu comprised of Natalie’s red sauce laden with striped bass morsels, bluefish filets, a handful of Frank’s clams and a bag of large shrimp. We tossed this seafood melange over linguine and supplemented with another spectacular Gina salad.

SUNDAY, SEPT. 20, 2009

Dawning gloriously, Sunday morning brought the same spectacular weather but different players. Big Bob Wilsusen joined the fishing party as did nephew Chris in place of Keith who was packing for his return home to Santa Barbara. Frank and Chris took off for the scene of Saturday’s crime while I waited for Bob who was slightly delayed when he fought off and killed Bambi who attacked his Land Rover Defender on Springs Fireplace Road. Unfortunately, Bob did not keep the meat.

We met up with Frank and Chris at White Sands where the sun’s first golden rays were diffused in a mist rising from the shoreline. The 55-degree air temperature was about 10 or 15 degrees cooler than the ocean, which was flat as

Father and son, Frank and Chris, gang up on the gangster blues, Rosh Hoshana 2009

Father and son, Frank and Chris, ganged up on gangster blues, Rosh Hoshana 2009

glass. The birds were active but the fish were absent. We searched east and west until 8am, when the fish began splashing up in earnest. We chased a school west to Napeague State Park and everyone got well. Chris and Bob competed for biggest-fish honors with two long, fat gangster blues. No bass, but the four of us caught well over a dozen fish. We took home 10, which were all earmarked for our table and those of friends on both coasts. Another BLT fish grill for lunch and the weekend was suddenly over. Frank and family returned to California the next day, but they will be back for another surf fishing session in October.

Next up? September 28 will bring the lesser known, but up-and-coming and nearly satisfying Yom Kippur Blitz. God is good.

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